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The Nasadiya Sukta (after the incipit ná ásat "not the non-existent") is the 129th hymn of the 10th Mandala of the Rigveda. It is concerned with cosmology and talks about the origin of the universe.


It consists of seven trishtubhs, although pada 7b is defective, being two syllables short,

yádi vā dadhé yádi vā ná
"if he has created it; or if not [...]"

Brereton (1999) argues that the defect is a conscious device employed by the rishi to express puzzlement at the possibility that the world may not be created, parallel to the syntactic defect of pada 7d, which ends in a subordinate clause without a governing clause:

só aṅgá veda yádi vā ná véda
"he verily knows; or if he does not know [...]"


The hymn has attracted a large body of literature of commentaries both in Indian theology and in Western philology.[1]

It begins by paradoxically stating "not the non-existent existed, nor did the existent exist then" (ná ásat āsīt ná u sát āsīt tadânīm), paralleled in verse 2 by "then not death existed, nor the immortal" (ná mṛtyúḥ āsīt amŕtam ná tárhi). But already in verse 2 mention is made that there was "breathing without breath, of its own nature, that one" ânīt avātám svadháyā tát ékam). In verse 3, being unfolds, "from great heat (tapas) was born that one" (tápasaḥ tát mahinâ ajāyata ékam). Verse 4 mentions desire (kāma) as the primal seed, and the first poet-seers (kavayas) who "found the bond of being within non-being with their heart's thought".

Brereton (1999) argues that the reference to the sages searching for being in their spirit is central, and that the hymn's gradual procession from non-being to being in fact re-enacts creation within the listener (see sphoṭa), equating poetic utterance and creation (see śabda).

The hymn is undoubtedly late within the Rigveda, and expresses thought more typical of later (mid 1st millennium BC) Indian philosophy, and it has been suspected of being intended as a polemic against the Samkhya school.[2]

The hymn has been interpreted as one of the earliest accounts of skeptical inquiry and agnosticism.[3]

"The One" repeatedly discussed in the Rigveda has been suggested to have originally referred to the axis mundi, and "The One who dwells beyond the seven sages" (1.164) as the polar star (at the time perhaps Thuban).[4]

RV 10.130

The hymn that immediately follows (10.130) deals with the origin of sacrifice and similarly refers to a creator figure, puṃs "the Man", identified with Prajāpati by Sāyana[5]

The hymn contemplates the first sacrifice performed by human worshippers who by the act were elevated to rishis, alluding to the mythical first sacrifice performed by the gods described in the Purusha Sukta (RV 10.90) Verse 6 (trans. Griffith):

So by this knowledge men were raised to Rsis, when ancient sacrifice sprang up, our Fathers.
With the mind's eye I think that I behold them who first performed this sacrificial worship.

The questions in verse 3, "What were the rule, the order and the model? What were the wooden fender and the butter?" refer back to the questions in 10.129 (5b "what was above it then, and what below it?" etc.)


  1. Wendy Doniger says of this hymn (10.129) "This short hymn, though linguistically simple... is conceptually extremely provocative and has, indeed, provoked hundreds of complex commentaries among Indian theologians and Western scholars. In many ways, it is meant to puzzle and challenge, to raise unanswerable questions, to pile up paradoxes." The Rig Veda. (Penguin Books: 1981) p. 25. ISBN 0-140-44989-2.
  2. "Although, no doubt, of high antiquity, the hymn appears to be less of a primary than of a secondary origin, being in fact a controversial composition levelled especially against the Sāṃkhya theory." Ravi Prakash Arya and K. L. Joshi. Ṛgveda Saṃhitā: Sanskrit Text, English Translation, Notes & Index of Verses. (Parimal Publications: Delhi, 2001) ISBN 81-7110-138-7 (Set of four volumes). Parimal Sanskrit Series No. 45; 2003 reprint: 81-7020-070-9, Volume 4, p. 519.
  3. Patri, Umesh and Prativa Devi. "Progress of Atheism in India: A Historical Perspective". Atheist Centre 1940-1990 Golden Jubilee. Vijayawada, February 1990. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  4. Bjorn Merker, Rig Veda Riddles In Nomad Perspective, Mongolian Studies, Journal of the Mongolian Society XI, 1988.
  5. "As the subject of the hymn is creation typified and originated by the mysterious primeval sacrifice (cp. X.90), Prajāpati the Creator is said by Sāyana to be the deity. The Rṣi is Yajña (Sacrifice), Prajāpati's son." Ralph T. H. Griffith. The Hymns of the Ŗgveda. (Motilal Banarsidass: Delhi: 1973 New Revised Edition, Reprint 1995) p. 634, note. ISBN 81-208-0046-x.

Further reading

  • Joel P. Brereton, Edifying Puzzlement: Ṛgveda 10. 129 and the Uses of Enigma, Journal of the American Oriental Society (1999)
  • P. T. Raju, The Development of Indian Thought, Journal of the History of Ideas (1952)
  • Karel Werner, Symbolism in the Vedas and Its Conceptualisation, Numen (1977)

See also

This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Nasadiya Sukta. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.